Oklahoma needs to join the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. The “21st Century Skill Incentive Fund Act,” introduced into the US Congress last month, may help. The act:

…aims to provide matching federal funds to states that pair strong core courses with 21st century skills such as creativity, innovation, critical thinking and financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy.

Thanks to Lucy Gray (@elemenous) and Jane Park for bringing this bill to my attention. We probably shouldn’t hold our breath over this legislation, however. Hopefully it will be more successful than a similar bill (perhaps the same bill) which was proposed in the 110th Congress (2007-2008) and did not pass.

students online outside

While I am glad to learn about this financial incentive for states to embrace a focus on 21st century skills, why should it take extra money to get leaders to do this? Leaders with vision and an eye to the future already understand the critical importance of transforming our schools from standardized worker factories into differentiated learning centers. This is a key goal of the Oklahoma Creativity Project. Anyone who has read articles or books by Richard Florida and does not have their head in the sand should understand these ideas. Unfortunately, however, lots of smart people (including leaders) are still not on the bandwagon for transforming our schools to meet the needs as well as opportunities in the 21st century work and learning landscapes.

I continue to be VERY uncomfortable with the standard rhetoric about “rigor” which often accompanies announcements like this:

Still, the teaching of 21st century skills is meant in no way to detract from creating a rigorous core curriculum. As Senator Rockefeller said, “West Virginia students need to master the 3 R’s – reading, writing, and arithmetic – but they must do more if they want to be ready to compete in the global economy.

High expectations: YES. A “rigorous core curriculum,” NO. We have to stop trying to force-feed a curriculum that is “a mile wide and an inch deep” down the throats of students, to quote Ian Jukes.

We don’t need legislators with a vision for 21st century literacy that would merely overlay digital tools on top of the existing, traditional secondary bell schedule and core curriculum. We have to not only re-imagine our schools, we have to actually re-architect them. This means changing the bell schedule. This means changing the required curriculum. This means no longer measuring learning exclusively on seat time. It means using portfolio assessment, and requiring that students use a variety of digital technologies to “show what they know.” It requires operationalizing the rhetoric we hear about moving from fact and recall based learning to a model emphasizing AND assessing the abilities to access, process and efficiently utilize information to solve problems and accomplish specific tasks. Check out my August 2006 podcast, “Reject Rigor: Embrace Differentiation, Flexibility, and High Expectations,” for more of my thoughts along these lines.

Trent Batson’s May 20th article for Campus Technology, “Why ePortfolio is the Tool of the Time and Who is Enaaeebling It,” got me thinking more about electronic portfolios and how the ePortfolio model we commonly see now in colleges of education is NOT the model we need to move forward in the learning revolution. Trent argues:

One particular part of ePortfolios has been built out–the part we call assessment management, the institutionally owned reporting process, tracking the progress of student cohorts toward program learning goals. But other parts have not been built out, so the eventual ideal structure of the ePortfolio enterprise is missing really important enabling software applications.

At NECC 2009 this year, I really want to learn more about how educators and students at different levels are using ePortfolios not as institutional “assessment management” portfolios, but rather as personalized portfolios which effectively communicate via “digital footprints” the experiences, capabilities, and skills of individual learners and workers.

footprints on the beach

I’d love to hear about how K-12 schools as well as universities are implementing Mahara:

…an open source e-portfolio system with a flexible display framework. Mahara, meaning ‘think’ or ‘thought’ in Te Reo M?ori, is user centred environment with a permissions framework that enables different views of an e-portfolio to be easily managed. Mahara also features a weblog, resume builder and social networking system, connecting users and creating online learner communities.

7 different NECC 2009 sessions are scheduled which include (in the session title or description) the word “ePortfolio.” Of these, the two concurrent sessions that look the most promising for my interests are:

  1. Scott Floyd‘s preso “ePortfolios for Students & Staff Using Free Web 2.0 Tools”
  2. Helen Barrett‘s session “ePortfolios 2.0: Web 2.0 tools to Improve/Showcase Student Technology Literacy”

Hopefully I’ll be able to attend and live blog/webcast these sessions from NECC. I did learn recently that I’ll be working with an ISTEconnects team to live-blog and webcast different NECC sessions, as well as interviews and conversations from the convention center. It should be fun as well as educational on multiple fronts!

Helen’s precon workshop, “Web 2.0 Tools for Classroom-Based Assessment and Interactive Student ePortfolios,” also looks promising but I’ll miss it since I’ll be attending EduBloggerCon 2009 on Saturday.

Helen’s post last week, “Digital Identity and EIFEL’s new direction,” echos some of Trent’s comments in the above post about an increased focus on “digital identity” and ePortfolios which functionally serve the interests of INDIVIDUAL LEARNERS rather than mainly institutions. On Helen’s recommendation I’ve downloaded the free eBook version of “This Is Me.” The book description is:

Your Digital Identity is everything you create on the Web, but also what other people might say about you there. Photographs on social networking sites, logs of chatroom conversations, newspaper articles about your role in a play, or your sporting victory. Even if you don’t post material to the Web yourself, there is a good chance somebody else does, and we believe it is worth knowing about some of the issues. This workbook is designed to help you raise your level of awareness and to think about some of the ways your DI might be affected.

This Is Me (a free eBook)

The book is in the format of a workbook which could be used with teachers and students in a class on DI (digital identity.) I am going to consider using part of it in the class I’m going to lead on Wednesday nights next fall at my church on “Digital Dialog: Leveraging the Constructive Potentials of Technology and Social Media in our Lives, Homes and Communities.”

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  • An excellent web-based eportfolio called ePearl has been developed by the Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance based out of Concordia University in Montreal. ePearl stands for Electronic Portfolio Encouraging Active Reflective Learning. It is based on the concept of self-regulated learning and inquiry and allows students to post digital artifacts but more importantly, allows students to post and share with their peers, parents and teachers, their thoughts regarding the learning destination, their immediate task goal, strategies they will employ and reflections on their learning.
    It is FREE and can be downloaded from the CSLP’s website here: http://grover.concordia.ca/epearl/en/
    Many jurisdictions in Canada are using this web-based application and teachers/parents and students LOVE it.

  • The information on DI looks very interesting. I’m thinking of using/adapting it for my middle school Music Tech class starting this fall. I want my students to be sharing their work with a wider audience and posting online. I’m also looking into how best to do this–wiki, blog, e-portfolio?

    I plan on starting out with info on cyber-safety and Digital Identity is an important part of that.

    Lot’s of exciting stuff to learn this summer!

  • Thanks for the info and link to ePearl, John. That looks great and definitely worth checking out. I’ve added it to my social bookmarks tagged “ePortfolio.”

    Susan: I definitely agree the DI conversation is an essential piece of online safety discussions! In terms of where to post, I really recommend you start with a wiki. It is simple but very flexible and powerful. I was just having a conversation today with some folks about Microsoft Sharepoint as an online collaborative environment– I think it is easy to make things too complicated. Wikis are simple but very powerful. They also can track everyone’s contributions. I’d recommend either pbworks.com or Wikispaces. If you create a Wikispaces site, make sure you use the free WikiSpaces for Educators sign-up page.

  • Nathan

    If you’re interested, here’s a post that gives some time to some of the best arguments from those wary of the 21st century skills plan as it is currently constructed:

    http://wayspace.wayzata.k12.mn.us/blogs/digitaleyes/2009/03/09/the-great-content-debate/

    Of course, maybe you and they would agree on this issue of the importance of content (“core curriculum”): maybe its just the “rigorous” that you take issue with.

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  • Wes,

    Thanks for this post and for the references to Mahara and to Finch for his reference to the Montreal product (ePearl) — both already delicious’ed.

    But I like where you are going with where these things need to go. You certainly need to talk with David Jakes and Ryan Bretag about what they are doing with the learning commons at their schools. One of the things they learned early on, by including their students in the conversation, was that the students wanted to own their work. Therefore, they are making extensive use of Google apps for learn artifacts, from our perspective; and respecting them as student work (accomplishment) from their perspective.

    I continue to maintain that we need a blend of three environment. The ePortfolio, a social network system, along with some elements of course management system.

    See you in a couple of days.

    — dave —

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